From the moment this all-female reboot of Ghostbusters was announced, the fan-boy panic set in: where will it end? An all-female Top Gun? Will it make me pregnant? Who are these ‘women’? Where do they come from? Are they a recent thing? Do we know any? If it’s proved they can carry big Hollywood comedies, how will they ever be stopped?
Such vitriol had to be coming from a sexist place as films are rebooted all the time and superheroes are endlessly — Batman can’t bend down to pull up his socks without being rebooted — yet they don’t provoke hate. Plus, it’s not as if remaking a film erases the earlier one. You can purchase the 1984 original on DVD for £3.99 and watch Bill Murray salivating over Sigourney Weaver all you like, and also cuddle it as you go to sleep, if you’ve a mind. So the outcry was misogynistic, certainly, and while the best comeback would be to say this a riot, a blast, a hoot and hilarious, the trouble is, it isn’t. It’s only just about OK, which is a blow, I admit. I may even be quite gutted.
As directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat), who co-wrote with Katie Dippold (The Heat), the film stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in the major roles, while Leslie Jones plays the black one you have to have on board. (In the original, it was Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as the black one you have to have; times don’t change that much.) The narrative sticks closely to the original as three scientists (McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon) are booted out of their academic establishments because of their belief in the paranormal. They set up on their own to tackle the slimy psychic disturbances that seem to be besetting Manhattan, and along the way recruit a fourth member to their team (Jones), who is not just the black one you have to have, but also works at the train station and is the only non-scientist. (The times don’t change that much, as we have already noted.) I would also add that in every instance where there is a ‘boss’, the ‘boss’ is male, as is the mayor, and all police officers, so it’s business as usual there.
This is high energy and super-busy, with our quartet racing all over town in their boiler suits as they battle slime and evil ectoplasm with their insane weapons. There are some decent jokes. They take a pop at their online trolls. ‘Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt down ghosts,’ is a comment elicited when they post their first supernatural encounter on YouTube. Chris Hemsworth, who is supremely game, plays their dumb but pretty receptionist, as salivated over by Wiig. They beg the mayor of New York to believe them when they say that the city is in danger: ‘Please don’t be like the mayor in Jaws. Please.’ But much of this is lost amid all the frenzied laser-zapping and a wholly confused and messy plot that incorporates a straight-up baddie. Where is the downtime? Where is the equivalent of Rick Moranis’s loser accountant who also has the hots for Weaver? And hosts a party for clients during which he announces their financial status as they come in the door? Where are those downtime laughs?
Ideally, one wouldn’t wish overly to compare any reboot to the original — let it stand on its own two feet! — but here it’s unavoidable, as there are so many nods and winks to it, plus all the principal characters (aside from Ramis, who has died) appear in cameos. This could never have recaptured the first film, which was simply one of those happy accidents of cinema, as aided by excellent chemistry between the leads, and the sense of an intelligent cast being incredibly silly, and knowing they are being incredibly silly, and the joy there is to be had in that. (This is what struck me most on rewatching it recently.) But this cast don’t bring that knowingness, don’t establish any chemistry and while this couldn’t recapture, it could have reinvented, had it been reinventive enough; had it been remade with some proper, full-on 21st-century smarts and characters that didn’t go about saying, ‘Let’s do this!’ amid many other similar banalities. It’s OK. It’s not a disaster. And it doesn’t vindicate the naysayers. This film fails to fly not because it stars women, but because that’s the only good idea it had. Gutting.